18 October 2006

Pro-Gaming All the Rage

It's 7:30 on a Tuesday evening and I shout out to my sons that dinner’s on the table. They shout back: “We’re coming, just finishing off this match. We’ll be there in 5 minutes.” They’re playing Pro-evolution Soccer 5 on a Sony PlayStation and it’s an “important game.” Welcome to the world of eSports and competitive gaming.

Today, there are full-time, professional computer game players - the most successful of whom make US$100,000 a year by playing in competitive gaming tournaments. Thinking of professional gaming as a sport may seem a little strange, but those who are excelling in it devote the same type of skill, passion and commitment that a real-world athlete does.

“In Jaffer Mir we’ve one of Europe’s leading specialists presenting on competitive gaming” remarked Mohammed Al Maskari, Director General, Knowledge Oasis Muscat (www.kom.om) and organizer of eGames
, 10 – 11 December, Crowne Plaza Hotel. “Jaffer’s the Managing Director of Game Frontier Ltd (www.gamefrontier.com) a UK based digital entertainment and computer gaming company that’s leading eSports across Europe and the North America. We’re delighted to have such an expert present at eGames,” said Al Maskari.

The stereotype of computer gamers as techies competing from their bedroom is shattered by the professional gaming movement. Most of the games played at the competitive level require team-play, so by definition they are intensely social. Serious teams assign roles to each player; much like a football coach would assign a role to his midfield. Tactics are discussed prior to matches, and a post-match analysis often takes place. “This is a sporting movement that’s getting ever more sophisticated and popular amongst young people and it’s not just teenagers, it’s young professionals that make up the bulk of players. Just as a football fan might follow every move or match of Chelsea’s John Terry, many gaming enthusiasts follow their favourite teams or players. Go to any Internet Café around Muscat and you’ll find folk competing. We’ve even got a World Cyber Games - an Olympic style competition where teams representing each country play for medals in a variety of different computer game tournaments,” said the KOM Director General.

Take a look at any sport today and you'll find sponsors, brand names on stadiums to logos on football shirts. Professional gaming is no exception. Since its inception sponsorship has played a major role, enabling players the means to pay for their expenses while focusing on their sport. Four Kings, a British professional gaming team is sponsored by Intel. Sports gaming giant Johnathan Wendel, aka Fatal1ty, (www.soundblaster.com/fatal1ty/fatal1ty1.asp) is sponsored by game accessory manufacturer Auravision. Indeed, the biggest competitive gaming event on the calendar, the ATI/AMD Cyber X Games: Windows XP Championships in Las Vegas is sponsored by all the brands listed in the event's title as well as a host of other major names in the gaming and computer industries. “Just look at Korea as an example, sponsoring a professional gaming team makes good commercial sense. Fifteen million people, or 30% of the Korean population, are registered for online gaming, and that means a big marketing opportunity. In time, this will be happening here in the Gulf and if I were a marketer I’d be looking at pro eSports very seriously,” remarked Al Maskari.

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